Detroit — Bad is bad. Boring is worse. Bad, boring and bumbling is the worst of all.
No broken hearts for the Lions this time, just broken spirit, broken plays and a broken record of misery. Unofficially, the clock starts now. At 0-6, the Lions are the NFL’s last winless team, and it’s getting harder and harder to find an opponent on the schedule they can beat. It’s also getting harder to find a deep pass that Jared Goff can complete.
Goff wasn’t the entire problem as the Bengals stomped the Lions 34-11 Sunday at Ford Field, a performance that had the crowd booing early. But as an experienced quarterback amid a constant shuffle of young receivers and linemen, Goff isn’t doing nearly enough to find solutions.
Nobody did on this day, pushing Dan Campbell to deliver his first blast of befuddlement and anger. Whatever sympathetic slack the Lions earned by losing twice on last-play field goals, they tossed it away.
“I’ll state the obvious, we got whipped,” Campbell said. “That was brutal. More importantly, the focus wasn’t there. I told the team this, I’m going to look at everything, that’s my job. But when you get whipped like that, that’s on me.”
Last week it was tears, as Campbell despaired over another loss on a long field goal. This time is was fears, all the Lions’ worst fears as they dropped their 10th straight game. That’s the NFL’s new reigning run, after Jacksonville broke its 20-game losing streak by beating Miami.
The quarterback rightly will receive a big chunk of criticism. That’s always the case, but the concern is, it’s almost as if Goff is resigned to his fate in a total rebuild. The offensive line is missing its two best blockers and the depleted receiving corps is a hodge-podge of unknowns. Goff looks more confused and less effective each week, dumping the ball on short routes that do little but kill time and aggravate the customers.
Campbell said he never considered going to backup David Blough, but when pressed on Goff, he paused for several seconds before answering.
“I don’t feel like we can accurately judge him one way or another, I don’t feel that way yet,” Campbell said. “Now, I will say this — I feel he needs to step up more than he has. I think he’s going to need to put a little bit of weight on his shoulders here, make some throws and do some things. He needs help, but I want to see him step up, because I think he can do it.”
Help isn’t coming immediately, not until another offseason of drafting, signing and trading. But Campbell’s ire was lit by the litany of mistakes, including nine penalties for 77 yards. While crediting the Bengals, who are 4-2 and have a top-10 defense, he noted blown assignments that left Goff under steady pressure.
The offense never hummed when it mattered and has failed to score a first-half touchdown in four straight games. Told his head coach wants him to do more, Goff didn’t disagree.
“I think I can always do more,” he said. “I think I’ve got some experiences to rely on that I can relay to these guys and be the best leader I can be. Continue to try to find the open guy and get him the ball, take care of the football.”
If the Lions don’t uncover more pieces, is it too early to suggest 0-17 is possible? Yeah, probably too early because the Lions have come agonizingly close. But 0-16 never seemed possible until they pulled it off in 2008. And when you look at the schedule, where do you dig up a victory — maybe at home against Philadelphia or Chicago?
It doesn’t make sense to sit Goff, not unless he continues to turn the ball over. His propensity for checking down on passes can be maddening, and also attributable to the state of the roster.
Goff is not a football gunslinger, and the Lions knew that when they traded their longtime slinger for him. Lions fans aren’t just being tortured now, they’re being taunted. While Goff was wrapping up his 28-for-42 performance, compiling a meager 202 yards, the Rams were rolling to a 38-11 victory over the Giants, led by that Matthew Stafford guy. Stafford was 22-for-28 with four touchdown passes, and while everyone knew the Stafford-for-Goff trade was a long-play move for first-round picks with short-term downside, seeing it with your own bloodshot eyes has to be painful.
Next Sunday might be even more graphic. The Lions head to Los Angeles to face the 5-1 Rams, and what Stafford inflicts on the Lions’ young secondary could be gruesome. Rams coach Sean McVay was the impetus behind the trade, so I imagine he’ll have his defense ready for Goff.
The Bengals’ defense certainly was ready, stuffing the run without much concern for Goff’s throwing. The only deep shot was a 33-yarder to tight end T.J. Hockenson. Goff is last in the league with 3.7 air yards per completion, and that might drop even lower. Kalif Raymond and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown are smallish receivers and they combined to catch 11 passes for a mere 80 yards.
On one notable gaffe in the second quarter, Goff overthrew a wide-open Hockenson, who probably would’ve chugged in for a 38-yard touchdown. Goff said they were on “different pages,” and it looked that way often enough that the boos grew more persistent.
“I feel their frustration,” Goff said. “These fans here deserve a lot better than what we’ve been giving them.”
If this season is a trial run to see if Goff can be the guy going forward, it’s painful trial by error(s). Some of that falls on GM Brad Holmes, who had so many areas to replenish, he didn’t do enough to stock the receiving group. Two of his free-agent pickups have contributed nothing — Breshad Perriman (cut) and Tyrell Williams (concussion). Then last week, Quintez Cephus broke his collarbone just as he was becoming a go-to guy.
The defense played well for a while, and the Lions trailed only 10-0 at the half. But Bengals second-year quarterback Joe Burrow has star options in rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase and running back Joe Mixon. The Lions have Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, and the least-accomplished group of receivers in the league.
That’s why Campbell is reluctant to make quick judgments on Goff. The lack of an experienced backup quarterback, or a promising youngster, renders any debate moot. But Campbell knows he has to make some sort of changes.
“Well, I probably should have been a little bit more forceful in Wednesday’s (practice),” Campbell said. “I know this — I’ll be looking directly at myself before anything else because that’s the bottom line. You don’t get whipped like that unless your freaking coach has a hand in it. That’s the truth.”
True enough. Look at the two games the Lions seemingly “won” — the 19-17 losses to the Ravens and Vikings. After those heartbreakers, they felt decent about themselves, and followed up with a sloppy loss in Chicago and this disaster.
We know way too well how this can go. Letdowns lead to meltdowns, and it takes only a slight dip in effort and concentration to turn close games into blowouts. The Lions are teetering, just in time for a daunting trip to Goff’s old home, where he once started in a Super Bowl. Whatever he gained from his success there, he needs to find a way to bring some of it here.